Tucked away in an out-of-the-way corner of Silver Lake, there’s a house that holds countless sacred treasures plundered from the Middle East .
The Holyland Exhibition and the Lost Ark
I’d been hearing about the Holyland Exhibition for a while, but I didn’t know anyone who actually paid it a visit. The place was said to be a collection of relics and artifacts gathered by a gent named Antonia Frederick Futterer, an Australian preacher rumored to be the template for Indiana Jones. This bold claim was intriguing, of course. But it’s not completely accurate.
Despite all the claims to the contrary, the character of Indiana Jones wasn’t based on Antonia Futterer. Dr. Jones has more in common with John Goddard, a member of the Los Angeles Adventurers Club (more on that in a later post, perhaps).
Rather, it’s more accurate to say that Futterer served as the inspiration for a plot point in Raiders of the Lost Ark — that plot point being the search for the titular Ark. Futterer was obsessed with the Ark of the Covenant, and his story is quite similar to the character of Abner Ravenwood, one-time professor and mentor of Indiana Jones.
In the film, Ravenwood was convinced the Ark was parked halfway up a mountain in Nepal. This cleaves closely to Mr. Futterer’s fimly held belief that the Ark could be found inside a cave on Mount Nebo in Jordan. And, like Ravenswood, Futterer journeyed to a foreign land in hopes of finding the Ark.
In 1920, Futterer, a third-grade dropout who invented his own method of teaching Bible history (more on this below), traveled to the Middle East and spent two years knocking around the “Holy Lands” ostensibly looking for the Ark. He didn’t find it, but he did bring back a huge trove of purloined treasures.
In 1924 he launched his Holyland Bible Knowledge Society. He opened his Silver Lake home as an exhibit to show the people of Los Angeles the wonders of the Holy Land and teach them his unique take on the stories of Bible.
Inside the Holyland Exhibition
A few years back, we had some family visiting in Los Angeles. These were some of our more adventurous relatives, so they were totally game for a visit to the Holyland Exhibition. So we called the number and made a reservation.
When we arrived, we were met by Betty, the site’s sole docent and an ardent adherent of Antonia Futterer. After a brief introduction to the life and many wondrous accomplishments of Antonia Futterer, Betty then led us on a tour of the five rooms in the home that held Futterer’s treasures.
We passed through the tapestry-lined Damascus Room showcasing all manner of hand-crafted furniture Futterer brought back from the Middle East including a writing desk inlaid with an intricate mother-of-pearl design, numerous chairs, a game table, and a large brass urn.
From there we headed downstairs into the basement that showed off Futterer’s impressive collection of … stuff.
A small room with walls covered by newspaper clippings held long glass cases filled with photographs, trinkets, and jewelry from all the regions of the Holy Land — Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Armenia, and Palestine.
Much of these treasures were small, pocket-sized, and vaguely archaeological in nature. There were pieces of stone that were said to be from Abraham’s Well, limestone fragments taken from the Pyramids of Egypt, and vials filled with water from the Dead Sea (bottled by Futterer’s own hand, no less).
Some of the larger items included an ancient oil lamp (said to be more than 5,000 years old) and a huge block of salt that Betty (who tended to speak in apocalyptic terms) told us was the remains of Lot’s wife — the woman God turned into a pillar of salt as she fled the city of Sodom. Betty also showed us an authentic-looking Egyptian sarcophagus that’s supposed to be upwards of 2,000 years old.
In next room, we were led alongside a long table covered with countless plates, cups, bowls, and drinkware crafted of gold, porcelain, and glass. Then we were offered the opportunity to dress up as Bedouins. This didn’t really appeal to any of us, so we declined — much to our docent’s surprise.
On the way back up the stairs we walked past a statue of Jesus praying at a rock next to a quoted passage from Luke. This statue was gifted to the Holyland Exhibition from came from the meditation room at Clifton’s Cafeteria before it closed for its big remodeling in 2010. It was the only thing we were allowed to photograph in the whole museum.
Futterer’s Eye-Ographic Bible Atlas
Upon arriving back upstairs and into the room where we started, we saw tables had been set out for us (one for each member of our group). It was a little startling as we hadn’t seen anyone else during the entire tour. Each place was set with what was supposed to be Middle Eastern treats — a Dixie cup filled with Kool-Aid (a stand-in for jallab or rumman), a cracker, a piece of Turkish delight, and an apricot fruit roll-up that was supposed to be from Sinai (but looked more like it came from General Mills).
As we took our seats, we couldn’t help but notice that the majority of one wall was covered by a huge, hand-drawn reproduction of Futterer’s Eye-Ographic Bible Atlas, the system he developed for teaching Bible history. (There’s currently a copy for sale on eBay for $1,000.)
As we nibbled on our Middle Eastern-inspired goodies, Betty presented us with the ideas Futterer developed around his atlas. The lecture, which which took us on a “trip through the Bible World from Adam to Paul,” went on for too long (especially for the kids). At the end, though, we were presented with what seems to be the real reason behind Futterer’s biblical hypothesis — the main takeaway from his teachings dealt with the ethnicity of Jesus.
Futterer’s whole idea is centered on the belief that God made everyone from three pots, and each pot held a different colored clay — red, black and white. He believed that white clay was somehow more important than the other two. And, because Jesus was a descendant of Noah’s son Shem (who happened to be a white pot guy), that meant that Jesus was white.
After that realization, the tour ended, as so many do, in the upstairs gift shop, which is tended by Betty’s daughter.
- 2215 Lake View Avenue (at Allesandro Way), Silver Lake
- GPS Coordinates: 34.096555, -118.254297 [ GPS Coordinates ]
- what3words: ///split.miss.bother
- Tours by appointment, reservations by phone. +1 323-664-3162